Ithaca Blog

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Geneva Conventions Against Forces of Death

I never fought in the military, either, so President Bush doesn't really have that excuse for not understanding how the Geneva Conventions bring peace.

The idea of the Geneva Conventions is not just to prevent torture and atrocities, although they do that. This is the part President Bush probably doesn't like, as he seems to rather enjoy these things. Watch him on TV: he smiles whenever he talks about death in any form.

The Geneva Conventions allow a side that extends humanitarian principles towards its adversaries in war to demand them for itself.

They also show the other side that perhaps your side is right. They expedite surrender. Here is an account of the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge by a World War II American Army lieutenant, in which 5,000 German soldiers surrendered:

Germans had time to weigh the alternatives: an attack from our tanks versus imprisonment under the Geneva Conventions ... while being a prisoner was no pleasure, they were treated fairly under the Geneva Conventions.

Similarly, today, from Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

I remember a seasoned senior officer explaining the importance of the Geneva Conventions. He said, "When an enemy fighter knows he'll be treated well by United States forces if he is captured, he is more likely to give up."
A year later on the streets of Baghdad, I saw countless insurgents surrender when faced with the prospect of a hot meal, a pack of cigarettes, and air-conditioning. America's moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It saved innumerable lives, encouraged cooperation with our allies and deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency.

The question is how this can be difficult for the Bush administration to understand. It must be a matter of will, rather than capacity. In other words, they choose violence with a perverse attraction to its ferocity, not a belief in its efficacy. They choose it because it makes them powerful. It gives them the power of life and death.

The goals might not even be clear. The consequences do not matter. Not even dead American soldiers matter to this administration. They simply wish for themselves the power of life and death for its own sake. They serve and propagate death. Maybe that's what Hugo Chavez was talking about.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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